When loving others conflicts with biblical law
Everyone is talking about love lately. There’s even a presidential candidate harnessing the power of love on the debate stage and in her campaign. Perhaps the sudden focus is due to the extremities of hate that have surfaced in our American culture. One does not have to look far to see how hateful rhetoric turns to death. Perhaps as America cries out for change, there is a yearning for something even deeper. Is embracing love at all costs really the answer, though?
Portions of the media, including social media, have been hard on evangelicals and what appears to be a contradiction between our sermons on loving our neighbor and our public words and actions that hold our neighbors accountable to biblical law. What are we to do when loving others conflicts with the standards we read in Scripture?
The answer is surprisingly simple
In Matthew 5:17-18 (MSG), Jesus said, “Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures — either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. God’s Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God’s Law will be alive and working.”
So God’s law still stands. It’s still working to show us where the lines are drawn and to show that there is a divide between the holy and the unholy. But Jesus, as usual, doesn’t stop here. He dives into the specifics of the law in the next few verses, highlighting a common thread found throughout the Bible. Man sees the surface, but God sees the heart. The thoughts we play out in our heads, that area that is harder to control than our actions, exposes our brokenness to an all-seeing God.
But Jesus also hands us the solution in verses 43-48 (MSG): “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best — the sun to warm and the rain to nourish — to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
You and I aren’t called to condemn others. We see their actions, and when those actions harm others, we are to speak out for the vulnerable (that’s how we love the vulnerable, by the way). But what we can’t see is their hearts or the work God is doing in them.
The answer is this: When in doubt, choose love. Love your friends, your neighbors and even those you believe to be your enemies. As the election cycle goes into full swing, let’s rewrite the narrative. Instead of being associated with hate, let’s start showing up and loving one another. Let’s set the example.
Jesus left us with a new commandment in John 13:34-35. Facing crucifixion, He said, “Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples — when they see the love you have for each other” (MSG).
If Jesus were to show up today, in 2019, as we engage in a culture of blame and mudslinging rather than meeting together and moving toward healing collectively, would He look at you and me and say, “Well done”? Would He recognize us as His disciples? Given His new commandment, does the world recognize us as His disciples?
Galatians 5:14 makes the claim that all of the law is wrapped up in one command, to love. Loving others will NEVER conflict with biblical law because to love is the law.
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